Sports  Other(ing) fans

There’s a common saying at Chicago’s Wrigley Field – the stadium where my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, play – that goes, “I’m rooting for the Cubs and whoever’s playing the White Sox.” (The White Sox are Chicago’s ‘other’ baseball team, playing on the South side of the city). In the 100 years since they began to play at Wrigley, the Cubs haven’t won a championship. They haven’t even made it to the World Series since 1945. Needless to say, there hasn’t been a lot to celebrate, so we jump at the chance to root for anyone playing “the other” team.

Long story short, it’s fun to hate other teams. If your favorite team doesn’t win, well, there’s still some solace to be had when your least favorite team loses.

A part of this hate is the creation of a nameless, faceless mass: the “other team’s fan.” You apply a stereotype to those fans of the other team, and use it to fuel your glee when they lose.

White Sox fans believe Cubs fans don’t actually care about the baseball, and that they just want to get drunk to forget that their team hasn’t won a World Series for over 100 years. For Cubs fans, White Sox are fair-weather fans.

Similar stereotypes extend throughout the whole country in all sports. New York fans are obnoxious to the rest of the country. Canadians turn their noses up at Southern fans, believing that they don’t really know anything about hockey. Miami fans would rather be at the beach. Boston fans have a fatalist, woe-is-us attitude when they lose, and are insufferable when they win. On and on it goes, until nearly every fan base has been reduced to one, easy-to-target person. This is how we make a recognizable “Other” of the enemy.

But why? Certainly some of it has to do with primal notions of superiority, a feeling that our team is better than yours, or, at least, that we’re more committed fans. Perhaps more importantly, all sports fans know how bad it feels when their favourite team loses. We have all been crushed by an overtime loss or playoff disaster, and we relish the fact that the opposition is sometimes suffering too. The stereotypes are necessary for this. Without them we might feel empathy for the other team (gasp!), the one we swore we hated with every fiber of our being.

Once you start to know fans of other teams, who are committed fans that love sports as much as you do, the joy is sapped. These people become humans in your eyes, and maybe even become your friends. And as much as we joke around with our friends, make fun of them, or try to rub things in their face, it’s rare that you ever want to see your friend hurt. That’s just basic human empathy. A good enough friend should, and does, transcend sports.

If you want to continue hating other teams and delighting in their failures, you can’t really make deep friendships with anyone besides people with similar allegiances. So what happens? If you know one fan of another team, know that they are as involved with the ups and downs with their favorite team, it becomes impossible not to know that there are thousands more out there. The illusion of the stereotype fades away. It’s become harder for me to celebrate when another team loses. You can still hate the team, the players, and managers, but you pass a point where it’s hard to hate the fans. There are lapses, possibly some exceptions, but you still can’t shake that nagging feeling of empathy, especially when I know there is someone like me who has had that losing feeling entering their chest or hung their head in sadness. Maybe sports and rivalries aren’t meant to contain any humanity – just pure, cold feelings of supremacy – but I can’t help it anymore.